It was quite the first year on the Michigan basketball beat. A team unranked for much of the season got rolling in February and made it all the way to the national championship game. I was there to chronicle it all for MLive, and wrote it about here:
Michigan is headed to the Sweet 16 thanks to Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Houston on Saturday night. I was sitting courtside in Wichita and had a perfect view. Afterwards, I spoke to Michigan’s players and coaches to get their perspectives.
It was just a few months ago that my conversations with people about Michigan basketball focused on the team making the NCAA Tournament. It seemed like it would be that sort of year for Michigan, which lost three starters from a team that took its sweet time becoming a threat last season.
Two months into this season, Michigan remained unranked. A good team, but not a great one. The Wolverines debuted in the top-25 on Jan. 15, the day they needed a last-second miracle to beat Maryland. They lost their next game, won the game after that, lost again, won two in a row, lost again. They were 8-5 in the Big Ten, hanging around the 20s of the polls. A good team, but not a great one.
Then Michigan, a defensive-minded team this season, went to Wisconsin and hung 83 points on the Badgers. That was Feb. 11. Michigan hasn’t lost since. The Wolverines are the No. 7 team in the country. Only four teams have better odds to win the NCAA Tournament. If you think they can do it, your first step should be viewing those trusted reviews from My Top Sportsbooks. They’re user friendly and have all the information you’ll need to know before making your decision.
So how did Michigan’s transformation happen?
From someone who’s been there every step of the way, it’s been a gradual process. Michigan didn’t simply become a great team overnight. The defense was always good, but it got better as the season went on. Every couple of weeks, Michigan would win a game with a sub-par offensive performance, and that inspired confidence. The players bought in to defense even more.
Michigan is only a little better than average as far as forcing teams to miss shots. But the Wolverines clean up the defensive glass. They limit 3-point attempts. They don’t foul all that often.
Offensively, head coach John Beilein has worked his typical magic. This isn’t Beilein’s best shooting team by any stretch, but they move the ball well without turning it over. Michigan State and Purdue, both national title contenders that can play some defense, couldn’t contain Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.
Now, instead of figuring out a path to a Tournament bid, Michigan is plotting its road to the Final Four. The Michigan States and Dukes of the college basketball world don’t have to apologize for starting the season in the top-10 and staying there. But there’s something especially satisfying about Michigan’s slow and steady process towards greatness.
If the Final Four coaches were to play a game of two-on-two this weekend in Glendale, it wouldn’t be great basketball. Semifinal opponents Gonzaga and South Carolina are coached by guys who did not play in college, Mark Few and Frank Martin. North Carolina’s Roy Williams played just one year on UNC’s JV squad, while Oregon coach Dana Altman played at a junior college in Nebraska and Division II Eastern New Mexico. “I didn’t have many highlights as a player,” Altman said Monday on a conference call. “I was awful. I would have sure hated to coach me, that’s for sure.”
Contrary to what many believe, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball program does not simply attract the nation’s best players, show up for games, and dominate. There is a lot more to UConn’s incredible winning streak, which stands at 111 heading into Friday’s Final Four. To gain some perspective and insight as to how the Huskies do it, I spoke with players and coaches who have been a part of other long winning streaks (UCLA basketball, Mount Union football, UNC soccer, and more) in a story for Excelle Sports.
Some feel NCAA Tournament results determine a conference’s value. To use this year as an example, many people think the Big Ten having three teams in the Sweet 16 proves the conference was underrated this season. Others disagree, believing the ACC is still elite despite just one league team still remaining. In this debate, which I wrote about for CBS Local, everyone is right.
There are many talented young players still competing in the NCAA Tournament, and I wrote about two of them for CBS Local: Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey and South Carolina’s Chris Silva. The sophomores played important roles in helping their teams advance to the Sweet 16 and will be counted on again. Dorsey and the Ducks take on Michigan on Thursday night, while Silva’s South Carolina squad plays Baylor on Friday.